Veterans Day 2018

Highly selective colleges enroll modestly more veterans. And 100 higher ed leaders gather in Washington this week to keep veteran enrollments rising. That's progress, right? Wick Sloane asks.

November 12, 2018
 
 

With this annual review of the status of veterans at selective colleges, let’s start with veterans (at last) from the country’s most highly selective colleges.

“The amazing opportunities that I now have after being a student at Brown University are opportunities that no one from my town will ever have or even realize exist,” wrote Davin Lewis, a Navy veteran who was a submarine nuclear mechanic and who majored in business and economics at Brown. “I’ve also learned that I bring a unique perspective to a group of people (typical Ivy League students) who would likely never have understood the challenges that people like me face.”

“We, veterans, fill up the front row in every classroom,” said Paul Rojas, who is majoring in applied economics and management at Cornell University. Also a Navy veteran, Rojas was a structural mechanic and plane captain for an F-18 jet.

“I wish that selective colleges thought about the untapped talent that is out there in the enlisted personnel of our armed forces,” said Jessica Nelson, a Marine majoring in psychology and Africana studies at Smith College. Nelson is also a tutor at the academic boot camp summer Warrior-Scholar program for veterans. “The growth that the military develops in individuals translates well to the classroom. Veterans can and will redirect the dedication they put toward their work in the military to the work that they will do in the classroom.”

“It’s surreal, like I expect to wake up one day, and MIT was all an elaborate dream, and I’m actually still on deployment,” wrote Brad Seymour, a Navy veteran majoring in electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In September, I was a guest of 45 veterans at the Ivy League Veterans Council, which includes non-Ivy colleges such as Williams Colleges. To spend a day with these men and women? Wow. I wish the Ivy League president who once told me, “Veterans can’t do the work” had been there.

The annual survey news this year is more talk, more conferences. Tomorrow evening, more than 100 people from 33 colleges, 12 education support organizations including the Council of Independent Colleges and 10 veteran-serving organizations including Service to School gather for the first Improving College Opportunities for Veterans conference at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. (Click here for the agenda.)

Veterans-at-selective-colleges advocate Catharine Hill (a friend), president emerita of Vassar College and now managing director of Ithaka S+R, organized the event with a team including David Coleman, president of the College Board, and Josh Wyner, of the Aspen Institute and the American Talent Initiative.

Me? I never imagined in my lifetime that such a Who’s Who of higher ed insiders would ever gather in support of veterans. What do you know? Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, has taken an interest and will be on a panel. Praise the Lord, at last, 15 years and more than 2.5 million veterans after the invasion of Iraq, the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees have stirred. ACCT vice president Jee Hang Lee will attend. That’s great news.

On to the numbers. The total of 844 for the 36 highly selective colleges surveyed is up from 722 last year and 641 the year before. Question for you, the readers: With 950,000 students using the GI Bill, is this progress?

From the rankings top: Harvard, 8; Yale, 10; Princeton, 12; Williams, 5; and Amherst, 9, at last have a ball game -- a football game. Their 44 total is enough for two offensive and two defensive football squads. Last year’s total for these five was 29, and just 18 the year before. Question for you, the readers: With 950,000 students using the GI Bill, is this progress?

Columbia, which has veterans at the School of General Studies, leads at 443. For the first time, seven colleges have 30 or more undergraduate veterans. Northwestern is next at 51. Then, Cornell and Georgetown, 41; Wesleyan, 39; Dartmouth, 36; Vassar, 34; and Stanford, 30.

In August, I was with more than 50 people from colleges and various veteran organizations, the second meeting of the Department of Defense Transition to Veteran Program Office. Mike Miller, the retired U.S. Army colonel leading the project, was clear and inspiring in why we all will benefit with more veterans going on the college. The U.S. has a volunteer military. “The best recruiters for the volunteer military are veterans who have been well treated and successful returning,” Miller said.

We were gathered in Northeastern University’s penthouse conference center, with two-story windows overlooking Boston. I garbled my notes and must paraphrase Miller. Most of us, he said, think national security is tanks and planes and aircraft carriers.

No, he continued, pointing out the window. All the office buildings with thousands of people doing their jobs and expecting to return home without interruptions from bomb and drone strikes is national security. Achieving this requires a high-talent military. We, the people, cannot take a high-talent military for granted.

My bid for a few moments at the podium Wednesday? Splat.

I wanted a moment, timed, for The Big Picture. Selective colleges recruiting a few more veterans is barely a start. Why are so many graduates of these top colleges solving problems by sending other people’s children to war? Why are the most highly selected students silent on having so few veterans as classmates? With a volunteer military, these veterans, volunteers, let millions of others attend college without fear of being drafted. In my own most highly selected education, during Vietnam, I do not remember a single conversation where we considered who was in Vietnam because we were not. I do not remember any professors even asking.

Cappy Hill, my cherished friend and Williams classmate, knows me too well. “That might sound preachy,” she said, and vetoed my request. “Sound preachy? Not a chance,” I replied. “I am preaching.”

Veto sustained, along with my suggestion that all at the conference receive a copy of Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, by Jonathan Shay. My continued wish? That all college students, faculty and presidents read this once each year. I cannot imagine that after reading this, anyone who is among the most highly selected would ever again solve a problem by sending other people’s children to war.

Of course even I admit that Wednesday has an excellent program, beyond anything before on this inexplicable situation. Higher ed leaders are showing up. For the agenda next time?

Listening to veterans, I hear no greater opportunity for selective colleges to encourage veterans to apply than to clarify the veterans’ bottom-line cost of attendance. Veterans trying to understand what they might pay out of pocket too often receive a torrent of incomprehensible-to-mortals insider financial-aid gibberish, including a train-wreck of confusion in how private colleges apply the Post 9/11 GI Bill and associated Yellow Ribbon benefits. (I’d need pages to explain the examples.  Selective colleges and veterans know what I am talking about.)

Too many able veterans have told me that they’ll just go to, for example, UMss Boston without even looking anywhere else. UMass Boston is a fine place. We encourage students to apply to several colleges. “I know what the deal will be,” they say. “I can plan for my family.

“Stanford's financial aid example is helpful for most veterans, and their messaging should become an expected standard,” said Adam Behrendt, president of the Ivy League Veterans Council and a Navy veteran who will graduate from Stanford this year as a math major. He is studying for a Stanford master’s in computer science while preparing to apply to medical school. “Stanford publishes generic financial aid awards, with and without benefits, and each admitted veteran now receives personalized examples with their admissions package. This largely ensures veterans can predict their costs before making an enrollment decisions.”

On clarifying what the post-9/11 GI Bill/Yellow Ribbon intend, I will preach here for leadership from these most highly selective colleges. David Warren, Jedi of Jedis, lobbyist, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU): I know, all know, you know that with both hands ties behind your back, you could conjure a VA letter clarifying all this.

Then, in this Congress, Harvard has 11 alumni who are veterans. With those alumni and NAICU on asking for clarification from the VA? David Warren, bring the letter to the meeting Wednesday. Shout out to just re-elected U.S. Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Iraq Marine veteran, Harvard College, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School. Would you lead this clarification effort with David Warren and NAICU? Thanks.

Demonstrating leadership, Princeton has eliminated the confusion by letting veterans apply as independents, students 24 or older. (Some colleges have required veterans 24 and older to provide their parents’ financial information.) At Princeton, veterans apply for financial aid with all other students, and Princeton does not count or use GI Bill/Yellow Ribbon benefits. At Princeton, which meets 100 percent of a student’s need, veterans can save their GI Bill benefits for graduate school or for their dependents. Harvard is shifting to a similar plan.

It would be nice if more of their peers followed suit. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from an earlier version.)

One more, from a Princeton veteran. Tyler Eddy, a Marine veteran majoring in astrophysical sciences. “I decided that physics held the most unknowns and the most challenge, I knew that developing the necessary skill in mathematics would be difficult. The second reason why I chose to study physics was because I felt that it was the most important thing I could do for mankind.

“No matter what time frame, eventually the human race will die if it remains on this planet. We could be wiped out by a cosmological event tomorrow, or in thousands of years we will die from our treatment of the planet or by the natural development of the sun that will cause it to expand to a much larger size,” Eddy told me.

A day in the life of an astrophysics major? “Some examples from my last homework problem were, to use various lenses to distinguish bands of light wavelengths from each other coming from a star and then to plot these differences, calculate the most optimal time to view a star in the sky, keeping in mind the rotation of the earth and its trajectory around the sun, or to calculate the flux of energy from a very distant quasar and the effect that the expansion of the universe has on these wavelengths based off its distance.”

Cappy Hill said the conference packets Wednesday will have a copy of this column. My wish in these annual columns is that veterans in most highly selective colleges will bring these colleges to graduate citizens who will solve problems without sending other people’s children to war.

Let’s see. No luck on the Jonathan Shay book. I’ll end, then, by dropping in a poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, the English soldier killed in action Nov. 4, 1918, one week before the Armistice. We can all read and reread on the way home Wednesday.

"Dulce et Decorum Est"

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime. --
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Veterans' Enrollment at 36 Selective Colleges, 2013-2018

  2013 Expanded 2014 Total 2015 2016 2017 2018
Amherst College 8 5 8 5 5 9
Bowdoin College            
Brown U 12 11 10 12 17 17
Bryn Mawr College 0 0 0 0 4 0
California Inst. of Tech.            
Carleton College 0 0 0 3 0  
Columbia U School of General Studies n/a 360 408 375 422 443
Colorado College       3   0
Cornell U 1     12 24 41
Dartmouth College 14   17 23 25 36
Duke U 1 1 2 0 1 2
Georgetown U 25 74 58 65 64 41
Harvard U   4   3 6 8
Johns Hopkins U 23 19 30 17 18 2
Mass. Institute of Tech. 2 0 1 4 10 11
Middlebury College           0
Mount Holyoke College 0 2 4 2   0
Northwestern U 14 19 11 15 15 51
Oberlin College 0     0 0  
Pomona College 1 1 1 3 5 6
Princeton U 1 1 1 1 5 12
Rice U 1 0 0 0 0 0
Smith College 0 0 1 2 3 2
Stanford U   10 16 21 23 30
Swarthmore College 0     0    
Trinity College   10 4 4 0  
U of Chicago            
U of Pennsylvania 35 35     14 15
U of Rochester 16         20
Vanderbilt U       1    
Vassar College     30 32   34
Washington U in St. Louis 20 21 13 12 6 10
Wellesley College 2 2 1 0 2  
Wesleyan U 2 11 22 30 38 39
Williams College 0 0 1 3 5 5
Yale U 2 3 4 11 12 10
Total 180 596 643 641 724 844
Blank means no reply.            
Active duty military, only a few, are counted as veterans.             

Bio

Wick Sloane is an end user of a most highly selective higher education. Follow him @WickSloane.

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